When Dolphins hired Cameron, Huizenga wondered aloud ‘Could this thing blow up on us?’

 

The Miami Dolphins’ coach search should go a lot smoother this time around than it did in 2007, when the worst hire in franchise history resulted from team owner Wayne Huizenga and his top assistants talking each other into Cam Cameron at the end of an exhaustive search.

You’d like to think it would go a lot smoother, anyway, given the fact that the Dolphins have had since Joe Philbin’s firing three months ago to think about which two or three candidates they are most interested in getting.

In 2007 Huizenga thought he was all set until Alabama started flirting with his head coach. Then, on Jan. 3, Nick Saban was gone.

111807 spt fins owls Staff photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post--0045222A--Philadelphia, PA...Lincoln Financial Field..Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles..Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron studies his play list on fourth down and goal in the fourth quarter.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron in 2007. (Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post)

The frantic rush to stop the bleeding led Huizenga and his staff to interview a dozen candidates over the next two weeks. Included in that rush was Huizenga flying the team plane to Costa Rica, where Pete Carroll, then the coach at USC, was vacationing.

Eventually a list of five finalists emerged – Cameron, the offensive coordinator at San Diego, plus Chan Gailey, Mike Shula, Dom Capers and Jim Mora, Jr.

When the choice finally was made, it was only after Dolphins executives met with Cameron in Davie, went home to sleep on it and returned in the morning to try to find a consensus. Still, nothing. Eventually, they called Cameron back from a local hotel to meet again and, after another question-and-answer session, offered the job.

“There were times when we vacillated,” Huizenga said at the press conference to introduce Cameron. “To be honest with you, it was not an easy decision.”

If that sounds like a businessman still trying to convince himself of a good deal, get a load of this as Huizenga continued to sell Cameron to reporters.

“Everybody looked at how we were going all over the place to find a coach and thought we didn’t know what we were doing,” Huizenga said. “Sometimes it did feel like that.

“Was he (Cameron) the safe choice? No. A little more risky? Yeah. Could this thing blow up on us? Maybe. But we said we’re going for the gold.”

Fool’s gold, as it turned out. Cameron, who was 18-37 at Indiana University in his only previous try at head coaching, went 1-15 in his one season at Miami and was lucky to get that one victory in overtime.

At least Mike Tannenbaum, the executive in charge of the current Dolphins search, appears confident in his decision-making. Within a week or so he should settle on somebody and get busy on a contract.

[If Dolphins can find a coach as tough as Don Shula, I don’t care how old he is]

[Bill Belichick’s primer on how long it takes a new coach to fully install his system]

Until then, there’s a sense of waiting on the dominoes to fall as a half dozen other teams take turns interviewing the same basic list of candidates. When one or two of them get snapped up, the Dolphins don’t want to be left wishing they had been more decisive, more prepared.

This isn’t like Saban’s departure, a total shock. Miami’s been warming up for this moment for months.

If Dolphins can find a coach as tough as Shula was, I don’t care how old he is

 

Sometimes I wish Don Shula had continued his NFL career in another market, just to prove to former Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and a greedy new generation of Miami fans that 9- and 10-win coaches don’t grow on trees.

Of course it would have felt all wrong seeing the franchise’s Don, the ultimate Dolphins’ winner, running some other organization. Shula didn’t have to be washed up at 66, though.

[Latest on the Miami Dolphins coaching search]

Nick Saban is 65 as he goes for another championship at Alabama and most any pro or college team anywhere would blow up the budget for a chance to benefit from whatever is left in his tank.

Former Dolphins coach Don Shula hugs ex-quarterback Earl Morrall before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sun Life Stadium (then Dolphin Stadium) on Dec. 16, 2007. The team celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Perfect Season that year. Joe Rimkus Jr. / MIAMI HERALD
Former Dolphins coach Don Shula hugs ex-quarterback Earl Morrall before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sun Life Stadium on Dec. 16, 2007. The team celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Perfect Season that year. Joe Rimkus Jr. / MIAMI HERALD

There’s something of a revival for seasoned coaches these days, and I’ve got to admit it makes old turkeys like me feel good. As the game evolves, smart coaches do, too, or at the minimum they collect the most innovative minds available to head up their staffs.

Take a look at the four teams that earned first-round byes this year. Half of them are coached by 63-year-old men. One of them, Bill Belichick, has been doing this forever. The other, Arizona’s Bruce Arians, was handed his first full-time NFL head coaching gig at 60.

So far, so good. Arians is 34-14 with the Cardinals. He’s been to the playoffs twice in three seasons and before all of this he went 9-3 as the interim head coach at Indianapolis during Chuck Pagano’s illness.

The average age of the 12 playoff coaches is just a smidge under 55, with Seattle’s Pete Carroll (64) and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer (59) helping to push it up. Overall, there are five NFL head coaches 60 years and older.

Zimmer’s story is similar to Arians. He had a solid reputation from two decades in the league but didn’t get his first his chance as a head coach until two years ago. In fact, he had been passed over so many times that the competition between him and six younger coordinators for the Vikings’ job barely even felt like it was worth his time and energy.

“I almost didn’t go (on the second interview with Minnesota),” Zimmer said. “I was so disappointed. It was like, ‘Why even do this?’ It was to that point I figured I was getting too old. I thought, ‘Forget this.’ ”

Mike Shanahan, 63, surely doesn’t feel that way. He’s interviewed with the Dolphins and would like a crack at running the 49ers, too.

To me, it’s a matter of whether a guy is capable of collecting wins, not whether he’s collecting social security.

[When’s the last time UM, FSU and Gators all lost their bowl games in same year?]

[Bill Belichick’s primer on how long it takes a new coach to fully install his program]

[Mark Richt’s culture change from Georgia to Miami expressed mathematically]

For that reason, I would say go ahead and cast the net wider, Stephen Ross, if you’re serious about changing the culture in Miami. What you’re looking for is something like Shula had with the Dolphins, a culture built on doing whatever it takes to win. Switching from conservative offense to the electric jolt of Dan Marino was included in that, and that revolution came in Shula’s 21st season as an NFL head coach.

Call Tom Coughlin, 69 and suddenly out of work, to see if he’s willing to push on until the age of 72, like George Halas did in Chicago and Marv Levy did in Buffalo. And while you’re at it, why not gauge Mike Holmgren’s interest in rejoining the league? He’s 67 and reportedly is giving the San Francisco opening a cursory look.

Doesn’t mean that the 49ers would want Holmgren, but really, are the Dolphins in any position to disregard any coach who’s been to three Super Bowls with two different teams and shows even the slightest inclination to do it again?

Dick Vermeil won a Super Bowl at 63, for crying out loud, and he coached Kansas City to a 10-6 season at 69.

The more I think about it, Shula could have been good for another five years and some other franchise would have been smart to talk him into trying.

Four of his last six Miami teams made the playoffs, and that supposedly was while the game was in the process of passing him by.

Bill Belichick’s primer on how long it takes a new coach to build a foundation for winning

Don’t know who the Miami Dolphins are going to roll out as their new head coach, but it will happen soon and fans will expect a lot from him.

Well, maybe the best way to say that is fans will expect a lot more than they’re getting now.

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:   Tom Brady #12, team owner Robert Kraft, and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ – Tom Brady, team owner Robert Kraft, and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrate with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

How realistic is that?

Bill Belichick provided some clues on that last week when asked how long it took him to insert his full  program in New England. His answer was four years, from 2000-03, and that answer comes from a man who had previously been a head coach in Cleveland, with all the learning opportunities that came with that project.

Here is the transcript of Belichick taking on a follow-up question. Did it take a couple of years in New England because of the personnel decisions he had to make?

“No,” Belichick said, “just because of everything.

“You have to change the culture. I mean, normally one coach is different from the previous coach. You don’t see a lot of ‘Whoever the first coach is, the second coach is kind of the carbon copy of the first coach,’ or ‘the third coach is kind of a carbon copy of the second coach.’ I mean, you rarely see that.

“The coach that comes in usually has a different philosophy than the coach that left, so you have to try to implement that philosophy. That means you’re going to turn over a high percentage of the roster because the players that the other coach had don’t fit the new philosophy, so a lot of the players are going to have to change in part because of the philosophy and probably in part because of the scheme. Those role-type players, now that role is not needed in the new scheme and a different role is needed, so you get different players, and then just getting your team acclimated to doing things the way that the philosophy of the new program.

“You’re going to have to go through a lot of tough situations – tough games, tough losses, tough stretches in the season, whatever it happens to be, to build that up over time. It doesn’t happen in training camp. I mean training camp is training camp, but those games don’t count. Even in the early part of the season, you might have some tough games, but it’s not like playing in January, playing in December. It takes some time to go through that.

“I don’t think there is any shortcut to it. I know there are a lot of other people in the league that think there is, that after two weeks all of a sudden everything is going to change dramatically, but I’m not really part of that, I don’t buy into that.

“So, I mean we won in’01. In ’02, we had a lot of issues. ’03 – that was a good football team. ’04 – that was a good football team. ’01 wasn’t the best team, but that team played the best, so we won. But I think we saw in ’02 more of probably overall where the ’01 team was. Just the ’01 team played great when they had to in critical situations in big games and that’s why they won. You can’t take anything away from them. They deserved it because they were the best team. But it wasn’t the case in ’02.”

Keep in mind, Belichick is talking about a period during which the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years (2001, 2003 and 2004) and still he felt limited by circumstances from installing his entire program the way he wanted in terms of seamless continuity. We’re talking about a perfectionist and we’re talking about one of the best coaches ever in this league.

Whoever takes on the Dolphins job won’t be as good and won’t be as successful but he will run into all of the issues Belichick speaks of here in the transitional phase. What Miami needs is someone who can survive that transition period, and not just another place-holder who can’t outlast the pain of two or three more years of mediocrity or losing, with all  the criticism and fan discontent that goes with that.

I don’t pretend to understand everything Belichick says or knows, but this is about as expansive and insightful as the guy gets with the media. Might as well learn something from it.